Most executives believe that relentless execution — the efficient, timely, consistent production and delivery of goods or services — is the surefire path to customer satisfaction and financial results. Managers who let up on execution even briefly, the assumption goes, do so at their peril.
In fact, even flawless execution cannot guarantee enduring success in the knowledge economy. The influx of new knowledge in most fields makes it easy to fall behind. Consider General Motors — the largest, most profitable company in the world in the early 1970s. Confident of the wisdom of its approach, GM remained wedded to a well-developed competency in centralised control and high-volume execution. Despite this, the firm steadily lost ground in subsequent decades and posted a record $38.7 billion loss in 2007. Like many dominant companies in the industrial era, General Motors was slow to understand that great execution is difficult to sustain — not because people get tired of working hard, but because the managerial mind-set that enables efficient execution inhibits employees’ ability to learn and innovate. A focus on getting things done, and done right, crowds out the experimentation and reflection vital to sustainable success.
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